White Rioja and Red Sancerre

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 11-12-2014

White Rioja on ice at an event 07/2013

White Rioja on ice at an event in NYC, 07/2013

The joy of discovery and the unexpected is one of the great delights in drinking wine.

Rioja typically conjures up images of luscious, oak-aged red wines made from Tempranillo. And, of course, Sancerre immediately brings to mind refreshing, lively, and mineral-driven white wines. Rightly so given that 85% of wines made in Rioja are red and 80% of the volume in Sancerre is white.

However, both Rioja and Sancerre have fun surprises in terms of their lesser known, respective white and red counterparts.

White Rioja

As the prevalence of Rioja wines grows in the U.S. (45% increase in Rioja exports over the last three years, according to Vibrant Rioja), consumers may see more and more white varietals on the market. Be prepared: there is a vast amount of diversity among the whites of the region – ranging from mellow and lightly herbal to powerful and smoky.

I attended a tasting of Riojas Blancos sponsored by Vibrant Rioja and discovered whites across the style spectrum. Some are great for lighter fare and some demand weightier and richer dishes of the fall’s cooler months. (Note: The whites of Rioja follow the same categories as the reds with Young, Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva, but with slightly different aging requirements).

Tasting notes of the wines, including a couple white Tempranillos, are below:

  • Muriel Blanco, 2012 Bodegas Muriel, $11/bottle: 100% Viura. Pale colored; lightly herbal with notes of lemon-lime and white peach. Mellow and easy sipping.
  • Dinastia Vivanco Blanco 2012, Bodegas Dinastia Vivanco, $12/bottle: Blend of Viura, Malvasia, and Tempranillo Blanco. Green-tinged and pale; strongly herbaceous and grassy (like “grassy” grassy, if you know what I mean) on the nose. On the palate, apple, sweet herbs, and fresh-cut grass.
  • ‘Inspiracion Vademar” Tempranillo Blanco 2011, Bodegas Valdemar, $23/bottle: 100% Tempranillo. Intense yellow in color; tropical peach, pineapple, and honeysuckle. Papaya, sea salt, and peach cobbler finish.
  • Placet Valtomelloso Blanco 2008, Bodegas Palacio Remondo, $25/bottle: 100% Viura. Reminiscent of oak and smoke on the nose; vanilla cream on the palate held in tension with the grassy, limey characteristics typical of Viura; texturally thick and oily; long finish.
  • Marques de Murrieta Capellania Reserva Blanco 2007, Bodegas Marques de Murrieta, $23/bottle: 100% Viura. The nose gives the impression of a slightly oxidative wine; nutty and waxy on the palate with a salty finish. A little like a Fino Sherry in profile.

Red Sancerre

When there is no Beaujolais to be found, or I should say red Bojo, since the region does make a small amount of white wine (~1% of production), red Sancerre is a lovely alternative.

My first experience with Red Sancerre was at an outdoor movie night at Pier 63 in NYC. I’d grabbed a bottle of Sancerre from my refrigerator to share with friends, thinking that crisp Sancerre would be a crowd pleasing, refreshing choice for the evening. When I poured the wine and it came out a translucent ruby red, rather than the pale lemon I was expecting, it made me jump. But the Sancerre Rouge, served barely chilled and poured into GoVino glasses worked perfectly for the evening.

Red Sancerre is 100% Pinot Noir. Why Pinot Noir? Sancerre was historically linked to the Duchy of Burgundy on Central Loire’s eastern edge, which may have contributed to the introduction of Pinot Noir and Gamay in the region. When phylloxera devastated the area in the late 19th century, most of the Gamay was lost, but the Pinot Noir vines were replanted in the area. The reds of Sancerre were granted AOC status in 1959.

Exemplary Red Sancerre is fresh, texturally light, and earthy with soft tannins and bright acidity, making it a great choice for sipping and one of those wines that plays nicely with more traditional “white wine” dishes.

In terms of producers, I did some research at a few retailers in NYC and the most widely available, delicious example came from Lucien Crochet. I tasted the la Croix du Roy 2009 and it had the levity I was expecting, backed by the substance of ripe red fruit and earthiness. For other bottles to seek out, Sophie Barrett (of Sophie’s Glass, formerly at Chambers Street Wine) adds, “There are really excellent ones available from Dauny and Crochet, and probably others. If you run across it, the Philippe Gilbert Menetou Salon Rouge from just next door to Sancerre is absolutely delicious.”

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